No more copyright on Gandhi’s works - so who preserves them?

January 30th, 2009 - 11:39 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 30 (IANS) The fate of Mahatma Gandhi’s original literary works remains undecided following the expiry of the copyright restrictions on them on the first day of this year, leaving scholars and admirers of his philosophy across the country anxious. The country Friday observed Martyrs’ Day, remembering the father of the nation on his death anniversary. But 60 years after his death, scholars and those who admired Gandhi’s emphatic views on non-violence and equality are worried about who will preserve the sanctity of his work in the absence of an authorised custodian.

In 1944, Gandhi, the legendary nationalist leader and freedom fighter, signed an assignment deed where he assigned the copyright of his writings to the Navjivan Trust in Ahmedabad.

According to the country’s Copyright Act of 1957, the works of a person go into the public domain 60 years after of his or her death. Under this clause, the Navjivan Trust lost the copyright on Gandhi’s works on Jan 1, 2009.

Now publishers other than the previously authorised trust may be able to publish Gandhi’s writings and speeches. But the trust is averse to asking the Indian government to extend the copyright.

“If you consider the spirit of Gandhian thought, one should not ask for such extension. We have considered this issue and we are not going to ask for such extension,” Jitendra Desai, managing trustee of the Navajivan Trust, told IANS on phone from Ahmedabad.

The trust, since its inception, has published some 300 volumes of Gandhi’s works, including articles, letters and speeches, apart from translations of his autobiography.

Desai added that the copyright brought a “modest amount of royalty” from those who sought permission to re-publish Gandhi’s works, which will now cease.

The Navjivan Trust will, however, continue to publish Gandhi’s works at subsidised prices so that “his writings and thoughts would continue to be propagated”.

Experts who have dedicated their lives to Gandhi’s teachings and have studied his works feel that Gandhi never supported the idea of copyright.

“All scholars have the right to interpret the original but no one has the right to tamper with the original text,” said Ramachandra Rahi, secretary of Gandhi Memorial Foundation.

“The original must be available for reference for all future generations - but I don’t think copyright is needed,” Rahi added.

In a certain section of his compiled works dated March 23, 1926 Gandhi mentions: “Writings in the journals which I have the privilege of editing must be the common man’s property. Copyright is not a natural thing. It is a modern institution, perhaps desirable to a certain extent…”

“If we go through his letters and journals one finds that he was urged to get his works copyrighted after his thoughts were misrepresented,” explained Dina Patel, a Gandhian scholar from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad.

A dominant fear among scholars is that an unrestricted use of his works in future could also lead to misinterpretation of his texts and concepts by other publishers.

“During 1999-2004, the National Democratic Alliance government had allegedly tampered with the 100 volumes of Gandhi’s compiled works in archives. The tampered version was then rejected by a committee of academicians and is now being restored,” Rahi said.

Another fear is that there is a lack of mechanism to preserve the original works for reference.

“Gandhiji was an intellectual giant, rich in diction. If the preserved corpus of the original works is unavailable how can anyone actually assess or object to the extent of deviation in a publication?” questions Patel.

According to 60-year-old Patel, who is currently doing honorary work to reinstate the original text for the “Compiled Works of Mahatma Gandhi”, digitisation of original works and preserving original texts on paper are both crucial for preservation.

“It is high time we evolved a mechanism to protect and preserve in a very responsible way Gandhiji’s writings and the first generation compilations and memoirs.” Patel concluded.

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